Six months after a ban on chemicals used in herbal incense products went into effect, St. Clair County is starting to see its use showing up in local drug court.

Recently, the St. Clair County District Attorney’s office made an informational packet available for law enforcement officials to present to businesses selling herbal incense products like Spice, K2, Smoke, Genie, Yucatan Fire and Dream which are being used by teenagers as a “legal high,” despite labels warning against human consumption.

District Attorney Richard Minor prepared the informational packets after receiving information that individuals in the juvenile drug courts were using the incense products, which contain a synthetic cannabinoid. Four chemicals used in the preparation of the herbal incenses, as well as psychoactive plant Salvia Divinorum and its extract were classified as Schedule I drugs in the state of Alabama effective July 1, 2010. The national Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) recently put five similar chemicals on an emergency 12-month ban while the compounds are studied, as well.

“Most businesses took them off the shelves by July 1, but we thought maybe some didn’t realize it, so we put together this information to let them know that hey, this is illegal and you need to get it off your shelves,” Minor said.

The products were attractive especially to teenagers, due to the ability to be purchased legally without age restriction, an increased potency over traditional marijuana and the belief that the chemicals were undetectable by drug screening. However, St. Clair County has recently changed its random drug testing for adult and juvenile drug courts to include tests for herbal incense products, whether they contain the illegal compounds or not.

As legislation bans certain chemicals, Minor said manufacturers are changing formulations to skirt the law. If the chemicals aren’t illegal, the state can’t charge anyone with possession of a controlled substance, but the St. Clair County drug court is taking steps to prevent the use of herbal incense in its population.

“What Judge [Phil] Seay has done in juvenile court is a condition of drug court now is that you can not use those substances. There are drug tests for them, and we use those in our random drug tests for both adult drug court and juvenile drug court, so those who are in drug court are being tested for them. It wouldn’t be illegal, but it would be a violation of the judge’s order to use them,” Minor said.

The chemicals that were added as Schedule I drugs in Alabama now carry the same consequences as possessing or distributing other drugs. With no way to be certain whether or not a specific packet of herbal incense contains the outlawed chemicals, business owners are cautioned against selling them at all.

“If a police officer was to go into a convenience store and purchase a Coke and a bag of Spice and sends the Spice off to the department of forensic sciences and it comes back a controlled substance, it’s under the same category as methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, so they need to be aware of that,” Minor said. “Our intention isn’t to go out and arrest cashiers and business owners, but to make them aware of the law so they will take these products off their shelves.”  

Minor urged anyone who sees herbal incense products for sale at local businesses to alert their city or county law enforcement officials, and encouraged parents to be on the lookout, as well.

“If you see these items — Spice, K2, Smoke, Genie, Yucatan Fire, Dream — you need to know what it really is,” Minor said. “It’s not incense in the child’s room or the teenager’s room. You need to ask some further questions about what they’re doing with these substances.”

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